Baseball commentators, on the whole, are not funny. They might be affable, charming, and generally pleasant, but very few are actually funny. Twitter has made this most apparent, with sportswriters cracking jokes that get laughs only from colleagues. It’s really only when they don’t intend to get a laugh do sports commentators bring the humor. Twice in the past few days MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds has pulled off this feat. On Sunday he proclaimed that the Yankees wouldn’t make the playoffs if they didn’t make a move. Yesterday he repeated that proclamation, but this time the caveat was based on Phil Hughes’s start. If they can’t get Hughes going, they’re not making the playoffs. It really is unintentional comedy at its peak.
The Yankees didn’t make a move, but it will take plenty more than that to keep them out of a playoff spot. After last night’s victory they have a 98.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds Report. This comes both from their 31.4 percent chance of overtaking the Red Sox for the division, and 67.5 percent chance of winning the Wild Card. After the Red Sox, there are only four other teams with non-zero chances of winning the Wild Card: Tampa at 0.7 percent, Toronto at 0.1 percent, Texas at 0.1 percent, and Anaheim at 0.2 percent. That’s not even to mention their run differential, which is tops in the league by two games. Now is not the time to be questioning the Yankees chances of making the playoffs.
Because the Yankees are so far out in front of the competition — seven games ahead of Anaheim in the actual Wild Card standings, 13 games ahead by run differential, and nine games up when factoring in strength of schedule — management has time to take a step back and really assess what they have heading into the final stretch and the playoffs. This isn’t to say the players can take their feet off the accelerator. As a band I like once titled an album, satisfaction is the death of desire. It doesn’t seem like the players would look at the standings and figure they can slack off. They know the lay of the land, and they’re surely stung by sitting even a game behind Boston. Management, on the other hand, has some breathing room. That allows them some flexibility in handling the roster going forward.
We’re already seeing this with the six-man rotation this week. Really, the Yankees could keep this going as long as it works, giving them enough time to evaluate their best options going forward. As Mike noted yesterday, it allows them to scale back the workloads of Sabathia, who is on pace for 250 innings, and Colon, who is at a six-year high in innings pitched. It also lets them see if either Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes is a viable option as a Game 3 or 4 playoff starter. There are other things they can do as well, such as experiment with Manny Banuelos as another lefty in the bullpen, or, as we’ve all desired for so long, Jesus Montero to come up and play a role in the lineup. They can, essentially, test out any viable player in the organization and see if he’ll help come playoff time.
Another aspect of this is that they can better afford to let a player rest. When Alex Rodriguez last played in a game they had just a three-game lead in the Wild Card standings. Since then they’ve doubled that, basically eliminating one of the contenders along the way. The lineup only gets stronger once A-Rod returns. If, say, Mark Teixieira runs into injury issues as he did at the end of last year, it will be much easier to rest him. Mariano Rivera can get all the work he needs, and none that he doesn’t. The same goes for David Robertson, and really, all of the bullpen. That’s not to say they should throw away games by inserting a poor reliever into a high-leverage situation. It’s that losing one game because of poor reliever performance isn’t the end of the world.
The next two months won’t quite be a cakewalk, in that no stretch of baseball is in any way easy. The players will still face it with the same level of intensity as they have all season. Management, however, has some room to play with the roster. They can see what players will help and which won’t. They can fully rest players when they’re dealing with nagging injuries, ensuring that they’re healthy come playoff time. These are the luxuries a team can afford when they’ve built up such a solid lead. And just think, if they take two of three from Boston this weekend they might be able to do all this while maintaining a good shot at the AL East crown. It really is the best of all worlds in New York.